While the majority hold up his greatest screen achievements as 'Happy Gilmore' or 'Billy Madison', there's a small minority for whom Adam Sandler's performance as the permanently angry Barry Egan in 'Punch-Drunk Love' is the best thing he's ever done. In that Paul Thomas Anderson film Sandler showed there was more to him as an actor than just brattish humour, shouting and endearing mumbles.

After 'Punch-Drunk Love' came the expectation that Sandler would do more serious stuff in the future, but in the five years since the film's release he's played it safe, adding 'Click', '50 First Dates' and 'Mr Deeds' to his CV.

But now comes 'Reign Over Me', a post-11 September drama that gives Sandler the chance to show that 'Punch-Drunk Love' was no fluke.

Dentist Alan Johnson (Cheadle) is in an early midlife crisis. He has a wonderful family, beautiful home and successful practice but things just aren't adding up like they used to. He feels that wife Janeane (Pinkett Smith) has gone from being his soulmate to his jailer and his business partners - whom he set up in the thriving practice - treat him as if he's the junior.

Alan regularly stops Angela Oakhurst (Tyler), the young psychiatrist who works in his building, and asks her questions about his "friend", but he can't actually bring himself to admit that he needs to really open up.

As Alan begins what looks like a slow sleepwalk into middle age, he's shaken out of his slumber when he sees Charlie Fineman (Sandler) on the street. Charlie, Alan's roommate in college, lost his whole family in one of the aircraft used in the 11 September attacks. He's stopped working, refuses to acknowledge that he ever had a family and spends his day either playing video games in his apartment or trawling the second-hand record shops of New York.

But from some reason Charlie seems willing to let Alan into his broken life - now the challenge is to try and help him without isolating him even more.

An opportunity missed, 'Reign Over Me' had the potential to be an exceptional story of friendship, life lost and recovered but all the pieces don't manage to fit together in the way that they should. And the squarest peg proves to be Sandler.

While there are moments where he manages to lose some of the shackles of his comedy persona, he doesn't open all the locks and he seems miscast here. When it comes to range Sandler is no Robin Williams, and the fact that Cheadle acts him off the screen doesn't help either. As you watch the film, more than once you might think that if the two roles had been swapped 'Reign Over Me' would've worked far better.

There's also the problem that the storyline, which alternates between humour and despair, feels too thrown together in places. Alan's parents are briefly introduced at the start; we learn next-to-nothing about his relationship with them and then in a key scene he's told his father is dead. Burrows plays a divorce-traumatised patient of Alan's who tries to make him sleep with her and then turns out to be something of a saviour to Charlie - neither is convincing. Elsewhere Alan's relationship with his wife could have been developed more and there's a feeling that too much is crammed into the ending too quickly.

It's watchable, there are some moving scenes and the feeling of a New York where the wounds are still raw is palpable, but there's no onscreen friendship to rival 'The Shawshank Redemption', 'The Killing Fields', 'Midnight Cowboy' or 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'. And for a film with something to say, they're among the textbooks.

Harry Guerin